PHILADELPHIA - JULY 13: Darin Ruf #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies watches his solo home run in the seventh inning during a game against the Chicago White Sox at Citizens Bank Park on July 13, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
On Tuesday afternoon, the Phillies announced their lineup for that evening's baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, as they often do during the baseball season. Despite the game not starting for a few hours, the manager posts the lineup in the dugout, and through the magical power of the internet, they are provided to the unwashed masses in the form of tweets and blog posts.
While that, in and of itself, is not interesting, the fact that Darin Ruf would be batting fifth and playing right field was. Ruf, the 26-year-old power hitter who came up last year, has spent time at both first base and left field in his limited MLB career, but he has yet to play (or even be considered an option for) right field. It's not hard to see why, given that Ruf is a well-built guy who lacks the obvious physicality of a corner outfielder, who are typically leaner, faster-looking guys. It's not the rule, of course, but Ruf certainly doesn't look the part, and up until now, has never played the part.
In light of Ruf's move to right field, and the potential for disaster therein, that, I thought I'd make a list of some things that could possibly offer better defense in right field than Darin Ruf:
Those otters that hold hands.
The stand-up bass from The Decemberists.
One of those stick figures that you see on the back of minivans.
I kid, I kid, but all that to say that Darin Ruf probably isn't all that great a right fielder. He is a lumbering first baseman by trade, and his transition to left field was the result of necessity, thanks to the Phillies having an unmovable first baseman in their possession by the name of Ryan Howard. And with Howard under contract for three more years (hence the 'unmovable' part), it behooves the Phillies to see if Ruf has the ability to play anywhere else without embarrassing himself or costing the team runs at the most inopportune time.
And to be honest, as silly an experiment as this might be (especially with Domonic Brown – who came up as a right-fielder – in the lineup), it does make some sense to try this out now. The games technically still mean something in August, even if the Phillies are out of the playoff race altogether, and these last 50 or so games figure to carry more weight than Spring Training or winter ball. Besides, it's not like the Phillies are losing anything with Ruf in right field instead of Delmon Young. Their offense is improved significantly with Ruf in the lineup, and with the exception of not getting a chance to see Delmon show off the cannon he calls a right arm, it's hard to imagine Darin Ruf being less equipped to play right field. But I've been wrong before.
Do I have any delusions about Ruf's ability in the outfield? No, not really. I expect him to be about as adequate as a guy of his size and skill to be, which is to say he will catch balls that are hit to him, have lousy range, and probably won't take any chances by diving for balls that are just out of reach. But, who knows, maybe Ruf will unlock some latent talent and make a decent enough right fielder. I wouldn't expect it, but I also wouldn't have expected the Phillies to have a veritable revolving door of right fielders over the past year, thanks to a trade of Hunter Pence and the non-tendering of Nate Schierholtz, who is at present enjoying himself with 14 homers and an .827 OPS with the Chicago Cubs. Who knew?
To be fair to Darin, he looked decent enough in right on Tuesday. He caught both fly balls hit to him, and didn't seem overmatched or intimidated in a position that he's never played at a professional level before.
At any rate, Darin Ruf (who hit his fourth homer in 80 at-bats on Tuesday) is going to be one of the few things worth watching this season, regardless of where he plays on the field.